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A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens Paperback – Dec 1 2000
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It's easy to forget that the British won most of the battles during the American Revolution. The Americans certainly carried the day at Saratoga and Yorktown, but they were beaten again and again by their enemy elsewhere--and often badly. So it's especially odd that the Battle of Cowpens, fought in South Carolina on January 17, 1781, isn't better remembered in American imagination. As author Lawrence E. Babits shows, Cowpens was the Continental troops' greatest tactical moment--and it marked a crucial turning point in the war.
The fight itself was fairly brief, and the outcome lopsided--it was "a devil of a whipping," as American leader Daniel Morgan said at the time. Babits provides a richly detailed account of the battle, including an especially good overview of the weapons and tactics used by troops of the time. An archaeologist by training, Babits approaches Cowpens with the familiar meticulousness of his profession; this is an important piece of scholarship on the military history of the American Revolution. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"An exceptionally well-researched and richly detailed treatment of one of the most important battles of the American Revolution." - Military History of the West "One of Babits's purposes was the hope that the Cowpens veterans would not be forgotten. The masterful work that he has produced goes far towards achieving that purpose." - Journal of Southern History"See all Product Description
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The forty-minute battle was crucial to our success in the war. It was a devastating defeat for the British, specifically "Bloody Tarleton," whose British Legion had been the scourge of the Carolinas. The defeat was so total because of the Masterful plan and seamless execution by General Morgan and his subordinates. Too few Americans know about Cowpens and its place in steering Cornwallis ultimately to Yorktown.
The author had a mission: to dissect the Battle of Cowpens through pension records of participants and memoirs in order to construct an accurate placement of troops during the battle, the size of American forces present, the total of British casualties and the duration of the affair.
He has done his work well and convincingly. In the process, Babits clarifies and rectifies some commonly held notions of Cowpens. The militia line made an orderly retreat through the Main line through previously established gaps in that line and not around the flank; Morgan's troop totals and casualties in his report were only for Continental troops -- the militia doubled Morgan's probable force to 1800 men engaged; Washington did not encounter Tarleton at the end of the battle but three British cavalry officers; the South Carolina militia did not cross the field during their planned withdrawal; the North Carolina militia stayed in the fight on the American right after their planned withdrawal.
If these details have lost you, it focuses on a major facet of the book. It is for readers who have some appreciation of the Revolution in the South and the Battle of Cowpens. While thoroughly researched and minutely written, my one criticism is that at times the author gets bogged down in details that interrupt the flow of the larger story. Thus the book may seem inaccessible to a first timer looking to find out about the Battle of Cowpens.
Not that the author doesn't tell the battle story in full. He does. This book underscores General Daniel Morgan's tactical brilliance as well as General Greene's strategic insight in detailing Morgan to the interior initially. Morgan's battlefield plan and his sub commander's (particularly William Washington and John Howard's) performances are correctly studies in leadership and execution. Morgan planned a tactical masterpiece that made use of all his troops' strengths and used some of their weaknesses (in the case of the militia) to his advantage. American arms have seldom exceeded this level of performance at the tactical level.
(Delaware partisan warning here) The author also highlights the rock steady performance of Captain Kirkwood and his Delaware Line during the battle and the pursuit of Tarleton. Kirkwood was one of the best Continental battlefield leaders of the war, noticed by George Washington as well as a host of others. Prohibited from rising to General by the virtue of his coming from a small state (the number of state troops raised had much to do with the general offices available), Kirkwood and his Delawares (as the author describes them; today we say Delawareans, although I'm not sure if that was the case 225 years ago) were a mainstay in Morgan's line, absorbing the direct fire of the main British regiment and receiving the most unit casualties of any of Morgan's forces. I was very glad to see Babit give this small band of Blue Hens their due.
This is a very good book in terms of research and analysis. Much more has been learned about the Battle of Cowpens because of Babits painstaking study. He has added to our knowledge of one of the Revolution's pivotal battles.
If you're looking for the straight facts, and lots of detail, get this book. If you're looking for a history that is also "entertaining," you might be disappointed.
Babits has made full use of all available sources and has made a very detailed analysis of the battle. Many of the ideas that have been fairly common to previous accounts and have been engraved on monuments at the park will henceforth be given a serious re-examination.
I am reading "Devil of a Whipping" for my 2nd or 3rd time and far from my last!
He commented that Tarleton correctly expressed the facts "if he knew them" and included him among his primary sources. Essentially he proves that Tarleton's estimate of number of militia was quite close to actual, and that Morgan had not counted them at all! And he explained why Morgan had not included them (fear of losing support for a regular army due to two quick local victories involving militia).
He clearly makes the point that his work would not have been possible without the monumental work that Dr. Bobby Moss has done in wading through all the records of the individual participants. Dr. Moss has accounted for more Patriots at Cowpens than Morgan reported, despite the fact that, for most, *50 years* had passed before they had occasion to report their experience in applying for a pension.
I noted that he said that the victory of the patriots can be explained by the better use of cavalry. This is notable since Washington had only had half as many as Tarleton and half of them were militia "stand-ins". Whenever W. used his, he used them *all* in the same place, always noticeably out-numbering the British cavalry he opposed.
I understand him to say that Morgan's use of his forces was more skillful than he has been given credit for. I also understand him to say that the resulting battle fatigue and battle shock played a larger role than the tactics per se.
As I read it, he does give Tarleton more credit for directing his forces than do most other accounts, and he also gives him credit for continuing the fight until it was beyond hope.
I believe that he gives the militia a lot of credit. I understand him to say that *most* British casualties were inflicted by the main militia line of riflemen. He also credits them with protecting both flanks, driven back but gaining critical delays of a few minutes that allowed Washington to use his cavalry "en masse" on both flanks, key to the battle's outcome. They also played an effective role in the last infantry action of the battle when they attacked the 71st, as well as in pursuit of the fleeing British.
I have never seen two maps of the battle that placed Brandon's SC militia regiment in the same place. This case is no different. Babits places Brandon on the *left* end of the line. Brandon's was the first regiment to fire their volley as well as the last. They fired two volleys; the others fired a single volley.
Most of the existing maps and plans for the battle are heavily dependent on what Morgan planned in advance to do if a fight were forced upon him. The plan he followed, when additional militia forces continued to join him (and he *decided* to fight) was remarkably different from the earlier contingency plan.
Babits clears up the nonsense about the militia crossing in *front* of the Continental line in their withdrawal. They went *through* the main line in openings prepared for that purpose.
There is significant analysis of the types and locations of wounds reported by individuals. E.g., one only received a saber wound to the head if one were in contact with cavalry.
He clears Tarleton of the charge of killing his Loyalist militia in the baggage wagon incident.
He does refer to Waxhaw as "an atrocity", but does not dwell on it.
I still do not recall his giving any explanation for the failure of the Legion cavalry (the reserves) to charge when Tarleton commanded them to do so. I don't recall Tarleton having an explanation either. He *does* explain the failure of the British infantry to press the assault (battle fatigue/shock) due to no food, no sleep, hard marching, cold weather, and the adrenaline rushes followed immediately by unexpected reverses.
I thought it interesting that the British pointed out that the Patriots gave quarter, but "with regret".
I'll have to go back to Cowpens, take the book and see if I can get fixed in my head where the "rivulet", the "swale", etc. lie on the field.
This is a "must-read" for those interested in this battle. It will be the standard from this point forward.
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